Reaching the Nations

Suriname

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 163,820 square km. The smallest independent country in South America, Suriname occupies a small, tropical area along the Northern Atlantic Ocean coast between Guyana and French Guiana and north of Brazil.  Most reside along coastal areas, preserving the rainforest of the interior.  Rivers, lakes and rolling hills occupy the interior whereas swamps and plains are along the coast.  Deforestation is the primary environmental issue.  Border disputes continue over defining the boundary with Guyana.  Suriname is divided into 10 administrative districts. 

Population: 486,618 (July 2010)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.108% (2010)

Fertility Rate: 1.97 children born per woman (2010)

Life Expectancy: 71.24 male, 76.91 female (2010)

Peoples

Hindustani: 37%

Creole: 31%

Javanese: 15%        

Maroons: 10%

Amerindian: 2%

Chinese: 2%

White: 1%

Other: 2%

Hindustani, Javanese and Chinese arrived as workers during the colonial period.  Creole inherited a mixed ancestry from African slaves and whites.  Maroons are descendents of black slaves who escaped into the interior.

Languages: Dutch is most widely spoken and the official language.  Other widely spoken languages with over 50,000 speakers include Hindustani, Sranan, Javanese, and Guyanese Creole English.  There are less than 10,000 speakers of Amerindian languages. 

Literacy: 89.6%

History

The Spanish first explored Suriname in the 16th century followed by British settlement in the 17th century.  Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667 and did not achieve independence until 1975.  Slavery occurred until 1863. Workers were subsequently relocated to the colony from India and Indonesia.  In 1980, a military regime took over the government and established a socialist government which fell in the late 1980s.  Political stability did not return until the early 1990s.  A democratic government was instituted in 1991. 

Culture 

Suriname shares many cultural similarities with Caribbean nations with large Asian and black communities like Trinidad and Tobago.  Due to the large number of Indians and Javanese, Hinduism and Islam have also shaped the culture and integrated cuisine from Asia into local foods.  High ethnic diversity has not resulted in ethnic violence. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $8,800 (2009) [19.0% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.769

Corruption Index: 3.6

High inequality of wealth occurs in Suriname, which has a GDP per capita of $8,800 yet 70% of the population lives below the poverty line.  The unemployment rate was 9.5% in the 2000s.  Services account for 64.8% of the GDP and employ 78% of the workforce.  Mining and mineral exports provide a large amount of government revenue.  Primary industries include bauxite and gold mining, alumina production, oil extraction, and lumber.  Agriculture produces 11% of the GDP and employs 8% of the workforce.  Agriculture products include rice, bananas, and palm kernels.  Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, and Belgium are primary trade partners.  Tourism has grown in recent years due to the large amount of biodiversity in the interior rainforest. 

Corruption is widespread and little anti-corruption initiative has taken place.  Little has been done to investigate allegations of fraud by government officials. 

Faiths

Christian: 40.7%

Hindu: 20%

Muslim: 13.5%

Indigenous beliefs: 3.3%

Other or none: 22.5%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   110,664

Seventh-Day Adventists  3,724  17

Jehovah's Witnesses  2,317  45

Latter-Day Saints  1,162  6

Religion

Christianity has the most followers.  Most political parties have strong ethnic and religious ties but do not require members to adhere to a particular religious group.  There is no relationship between socio-economic class and religion with the possible exception of Amerindians who practice indigenous religions in poor, rural locations.  Several Christian, Hindu and Muslim holidays are observed by the government as national holidays.

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is generally supported by the government.  The constitution allows its citizens to change religions if desired.  Religious instruction may occur in school but is not mandatory.[1] 

Largest Cities

Urban: 75%

Paramaribo, Lelydorp, Nieuw Nickerie, Moengo, Meerzorg, Nieuw Amsterdam, Marienburg, Wageningen, Albina, Groningen.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Three of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  59% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

The first missionaries arrived and the first converts joined the Church in 1988 and 1989, respectively.[2]  Elder M. Russell Ballard dedicated Suriname for missionary work in February 1990.[3]  Seminary and institute began in 1993 and 1994.  Missionary work was first administered by the West Indies Mission, later the Trinidad and Tobago Mission, and again by the West Indies Mission.  In 1998, Suriname was part of the North America Southeast Area.[4]  In 2006, Suriname became part of the newly created Caribbean Area. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 1,162 (2009)

85 attended the dedication of Suriname in 1990.  The largest group had 25 attending Sunday meetings at the time in Lelydorp.[5]  Attendance reached 100 in the Paramaribo Branch in late 1990.[6]  In 1995, there were 300 members.  By 2000, membership reached 438. 

Membership grew more rapidly in the 2000s.  In 2002, membership reached 518 and 584 in 2004.  There were 687 members by 2006 and 847 members in 2007.  Annual membership growth rates ranged between 4-13% between 2001 and 2006 whereas annual membership growth rates reached over 23% in 2007 and 2008.  Suriname experienced its largest numerical increase in membership in 2008, growing by 210.  Membership typically increases between 50 and 150 annually. 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 6 

In early 1990, there was one branch and members met in four different locations for Sunday meetings.[7]  By late 1990, meetings were held in Paramaribo, Lelydorp, and Uitkijk. 

A second branch was created in 2002 in Wanika.  The Church organized the first district in Paramaribo in 2004.  In 2007, four new branches were created in Nieuw Nickerie, Uitkijk, Tamenga, and Blauwgrond.  A seventh branch was created in Koewarasan in 2008.  In 2010, the Blauwgrond Branch was discontinued.

Activity and Retention

Many of the branches have a large number of inactive members and few active members.  One branch in the Paramaribo area had only 40 of the 200 members attending Church meetings weekly.  The Nickerie Branch had approximately 30 attending meetings weekly in late 2009.  The ratio of members to congregations has decreased from 438 in 2000 to 151 in 2008.  Youth constitute a large portion of active membership.  74 were enrolled in seminary during the 2007-2008 school year and Suriname had one of the highest percentages of members attending seminary in the Caribbean (7%).  The West Indies Mission had 450 active Melchizedek priesthood holders, 2,800 attending sacrament meeting, and 550 endowed members in the late 2000s.  The average branch likely has 50 active members, indicating that active membership totals around 350, or 33%.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Dutch, Hindi

All LDS scriptures and most Church materials are available in Dutch, including a wide selection of institute manuals and audio/visual materials.  The Book of Mormon and limited materials are translated into Hindi.  Only The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith is available in Sranan. 

Meetinghouses

The Paramaribo Branch meets in a Church-built meetinghouse.  Other congregations meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Few humanitarian projects have taken place in Suriname.  The Church donated wheelchairs in 2006.[8] 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church enjoys full religious freedom to proselyte.  Foreign full-time missionaries have challenges obtaining visas.  Missionaries have the unique opportunity to openly teach Hindus and Muslims. 

Cultural Issues

The greatest cultural challenge for the Church is the wide variety of religious and cultural traditions in Suriname.  Converts come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds depending on ethnicity.  High religious tolerance of differing religions appears to have allowed the Church greater acceptance in the community. 

National Outreach

Five of the Church's six congregations function in the two most populous and smallest administrative districts of Suriname, Paramaribo and Wanica, which account for 60% of the national population.  The Nickerie Branch provides an outreach center for 8.5% of the national population residing in the Nickerie District.  The remaining 31.5% of the population resides in districts without congregations.  Some districts bordering Paramaribo and Wanica, such as Commewijne, Para, and Saramacca, have some towns and villages close to congregations and account for 11% of the population. 

Unreached districts present challenges to the Church due to language issues, remote location and sparse population.  The Sipaliwini District is larger than the other nine districts combined, has a population of 29,000 and many Amerindians.  Mission outreach to Sipalwini and other districts will likely most effectively occur through local members in Paramaribo sharing the gospel with friends and family residing in these locations. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Convert retention challenges have persisted for the past decade during years with slow and rapid membership growth.  Many converts were retained during periods of increased membership growth in the late 2000s, but the percentage of active members appears to have decreased.  Historically low member activity is apparent by only one congregation with almost 500 members serving Suriname in the early 2000s.  However, the increase of congregations from two to seven in two years points toward maturing local leadership capable of leading congregations of retained converts.  Missionaries report that many of the branches have an inadequate number of active members to fill all the basic branch callings.  Some of the smaller branches may close in the coming years and become groups if recent converts become less active or active members are lost to attrition.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Congregations include members from all the different ethnic groups.  Leaders and missionaries face the challenge of bringing converts from Hindustani, Javanese, Maroon, Creole, Chinese, Amerindian, and white backgrounds, each of which vary in religious affiliation and political views.  Commonalities between individuals from differing ethnic groups appear to have been found and sustained in congregations, but differences in culture and language complicate ethnic integration.  

Language Issues

Most missionaries become proficient in Dutch and some can converse in Sranan.  Language is a major obstacle for missionaries in outreach among Hindustani and Javanese areas where many do not speak Dutch fluently.  An increase in local full-time missionaries fluent in these languages and assigned to serve in Suriname will provide the greatest means to reach these isolated populations as the Church lacks members and missionaries who speak either of these languages.  Javanese is the language with the most speakers without LDS materials worldwide, with some 84.6 million speakers. 

Missionary Service

Foreign missionaries overwhelmingly constitute the LDS missionary manpower in Suriname.  In mid-2009, 16 missionaries served in Suriname.  Missionaries typically do not transfer to other nations in the West Indies Mission as they learn to speak Dutch and visas are difficult to obtain.  Stressing missionary preparation to youth and young adults attending seminary and institute may help improve local missionary self-sufficiency. 

Leadership

Suriname has demonstrated some limited local leadership development.  The organization of a district with only two branches indicated that local leadership was sufficient to staff both the district and branch presidencies in the early 2000s.  Challenges exist in increasing the number and devotion of local priesthood leaders.  In early 2010, a missionary had to fill the branch presidency in one of the branches because the former native branch president was released for disciplinary action.  In early 2010, five of the seven branches had native branch presidents.  The small size of local leadership limits possibilities of opening new congregations in lesser reached areas.

Temple

Suriname belongs to the Caracas Venezuela Temple District.  Temple trips to the temple in Caracas or Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic likely do not occur frequently due to distance, money and time constraints.  There are no foreseeable prospects of a temple closer to Suriname due to few members and low activity rates in the region. 

Comparative Growth

Suriname has experienced moderate increases in membership and congregational growth but with low retention.  Guyana has experienced similar results.  Guyana Church membership doubled between 2006 and 2009 and Surinamese membership doubled between 2002 and 2008.  Growth has occurred more rapidly than in most Caribbean nations over the past decade, such as Trinidad and Tobago and French Guiana. 

Many Christian denominations experience comparable membership growth with the LDS Church.  Both Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists reported between 100 and 200 baptisms in 2008.  Evangelical churches have reported steady and moderate growth over the past several decades.  Christian groups also struggle with preaching to Hindustani and Javanese in addition to reaching isolated, sparsely populated regions.

Future Prospects

The outlook for continued membership growth appears good.  Few additional congregations will likely be organized until greater convert retention, local leadership development, and increases in the numbers of active members in operating congregations occurs.  The Church in Suriname displays several characteristics which demonstrate that the foundation has been laid for a stake to be established in more distant future as the majority of membership is concentrated in Paramaribo and surrounding communities. There are enough congregations for a stake to be organized, and the greatest strength is found among Surinamese youth which if retained and serve full-time missions could lead to long-term growth and self-sufficiency.


[1] "Suriname," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127405.htm

[2] Wells, Elayne. "Work flourishing among a people ‘without guile'," LDS Church News, 1 December 1990. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20206/Work-flourishing-among-a-people-without-guile.html

[3]  "Services in 3 South American nations and island republic," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20438/Services-in-3-South-American-nations-and-island-republic.html

[4] "5 new areas announced worldwide," LDS Church News, 4 July 1998. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/31389/5-new-areas-announced-worldwide.html

[5]  "Services in 3 South American nations and island republic," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20438/Services-in-3-South-American-nations-and-island-republic.html

[6] Wells, Elayne. "Work flourishing among a people ‘without guile'," LDS Church News, 1 December 1990. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20206/Work-flourishing-among-a-people-without-guile.html

[7] "Services in 3 South American nations and island republic," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20438/Services-in-3-South-American-nations-and-island-republic.html

[8] "Wheelchair distribution," LDS Church Newsroom, retrieved 25 February 2010. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/background-information/wheelchair-distribution